Alma Raymond Elliott
- 152Wallaby Number
Unlike many fine sportsmen, whose careers (and often lives) were wrecked or ended by World War I, Ray Elliott returned from the conflict ready to take his place as one of Australia’s leading forwards of the early 1920s. Hardened both physically and mentally, Elliott was soon to become one of the indispensable men in the Waratahs ‘pack and the team never looked as strong without him. At 6ft (1.83m) and 13 stone (83kg), he was one of the bigger men in the New South Wales pack of his day and used his size and strength well. After the armistice in Europe, where he had served for a short time, Elliott was a member of the 1919 AIF team although he did not play in Australia. That team had several quality performers who took prominent parts in the game in the early 1920s, although its importance was all but forgotten for many years. Elliott was one of the youngsters whose development was to prove vital for rugby in the difficult times ahead.
Elliott was included as lock in the first Test team chosen to face the 1920 All Blacks. Although New South Wales suffered a 15-26 defeat, which did not please the critics or selectors, the quality of the performance was not initially appreciated. This All Black side was extremely good – they were the last team from New Zealand to return unbeaten until 1938 – and they created all kinds of scoring records on tour. Elliott was one axed after the first Test, to be replaced by Geoff Wyld and then Watty Friend. Elliott’s only appearance against the 1921 Springboks was for Metropolitan Union but he was chosen for the New Zealand tour that year, when he made a quick and decisive move to the top. While many of the teams met on the 1921 tour were not those in the top echelon of New Zealand provinces, almost all were country unions who boasted good, hard packs. Elliott began as a back-row forward in the 3-2-3 scrum that New South Wales favoured at the time, but he moved in to lock when injuries and a lack of form prompted a reshuffle.
While hardly ever singled out for individual praise, Elliott was one of the successes of the tour and his non-stop work ethic was just what the lightweight pack required. The side had talent to burn in the backs, especially in the lightning-fast three-quarters, but that would have been of little use without a good supply of ball. Soon recognised as one of the team mainstays, Elliott only missed the Bay of Plenty match (the tour’s third game) and was chosen at lock for the Test. This match, which New Zealand did not take too seriously – for example they replaced Mullins, the halfback, on the morning of the match and gave the captaincy to Teddy Roberts, the replacement – saw the poorly-prepared home side slaughtered by 17-0, still the heaviest defeat suffered by any New Zealand team at home. All the visitors had exemplary matches and, much to the surprise of the majority of spectators, outplayed the home forwards.
The 1921 Waratahs only missed an unbeaten tour when defeated by Wellington in the last match, which was played four days after the Test. In the circumstances that defeat – by the reigning Ranfurly Shield holder – was understandable. Having proved himself on tour, Elliott became a certainty at home. He played the first two matches of the exciting 1922 series against the Maori but an injury sustained in the second match forced him to leave the field and his replacement, Reg Ferguson, took the vacant place in the thrilling decider that the visitors won 23-22 after being behind 6-22 at halftime. Elliott had recovered by the time a full All Black side arrived three weeks later and New South Wales, after losing the first match – Elliott this time replaced Ferguson during the game – turned in two excellent games to win the series.
Both times the win was based on a superior effort by the pack, which nullified the New Zealanders’ greater weight and height with non-stop commitment. In both matches the entire pack was praised as a collective unit rather than as individuals, with every man doing his share. Elliott was an ever-present in the 1923 Maori series – this one, like its predecessor, contained three high-scoring, close matches but the Waratahs won in a sweep. The home forwards employed bustling tactics against the much heavier Maori pack, endeavouring to play the game at high speed. The tactics worked, as none of the matches became a set-piece battle even though rain rendered the pitch muddy and slow for the final contest. Elliott had a good series, being prominent in every match. As one of the limited number of experienced men available for the New Zealand tour and a star for the last three years, he was one of the first chosen for what proved an ill-fated venture.
Without ten of the better players, all of whom were unavailable for one reason or another, and missing six of the chosen team due to university exams that excluded them from the first two matches, the young Waratahs were always going to find this trip hard. Elliott, who played exclusively in the back row on this trip, therefore had a lot on his plate. He did his work well, winning good notices for his untiring efforts in the tour opener, at Wellington, and capped another strong match at Timaru with his only try for the State – a remarkable statistic for a man who spent so much time on the ball. The Waratahs struggled to contain the much heavier All Black pack in the first Test, although sterling defensive work kept the margin tight, but a week later the tourists, who showed only two changes from the Dunedin match as opposed to New Zealand’s eight, copped a heavy defeat at Christchurch.
Once again the Blues’ pack was overmatched and the loose forwards had to do far too much defending to make any real contribution on attack. Another heavy defeat followed at Napier, when Hawkes Bay-Poverty Bay (in reality the team was mostly drawn from Ranfurly Shield holder Hawkes Bay) followed the same recipe as the All Blacks – using their much heavier forwards to dominate the game before launching back attacks – and the result, 32-15, was similar to the Test score as well. Elliott sat the next two matches out – another heavy loss at Auckland was followed by only the second win of the tour at Hamilton – before returning to the fray against an almost new All Black side; there were 14 changes from the Christchurch Test. This time the score was even higher, 38-11, and New South Wales was never in the game. One final match, an average affair that saw Wairarapa-Bush win by 14-8, ended the trip and, as it happened, Elliott’s career at the top level. He made one final appearance against an All Black side when he turned out for Metropolitan Union against the 1924 tourists before dropping out of the picture.